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Perspective on the UN COP26 Climate Conference Glasgow Agreement

By David Turcotte

David Turcotte, a UMass Lowell Research Professor in the Economics Department and a member of the steering committee of the University’s Climate Change Initiative, attended the recent COP26 conference in Scotland and shared the following report. (His initial report from the conference was posted here).

The COP26 meeting was scheduled to conclude on Friday, November 13th, but the parties were unable to reach an agreement until late Saturday afternoon.  However, numerous delegates, climate activists and observers expressed disappointment at the last-minute changes pushed by China and India that replaced the commitment to “phase out” the “unabated coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” with a change of wording to “phase-down.”  Many were also distressed by the process, as negotiations were closed after the insertion of the language supported by China and India.  Nevertheless, despite the watered-down language on coal and fossil fuel, others emphasized the important achievements of the agreement, as this was the first COP climate deal that overtly mentioned fossil fuels as the driver of climate change and included a plan to reduce coal generated electricity.  Consequently, for some the glass was half full and for others the glass was half empty.

On the positive side, several achievements have been noted, such as the 137 countries with most global forest lands agreeing to work collectively to stop and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 and over 100 countries pledging to cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, which I mentioned in my earlier report.  This is significant because methane can warm the atmosphere about 80% faster than CO2 emissions, but it breaks down much sooner.  Nonetheless, three big methane emitters (Russia, China, and India) did not join the pledge.  There also was a new pledge by 23 countries to phase-out coal-fired power plants, but many big coal users including China, Russia and the U.S. refused to join.  In addition, 20 countries committed to stop financing fossil fuel internationally, including the U.S., United Kingdom, and Canada and a few countries agreed to stop issuing new license for oil and gas exploration and set a date to end production all together.

Other noted accomplishments include the expectations that countries must announce stronger emission reduction targets by 2022 instead of 2025 that was set in the Paris Agreement.  An agreement was also finalized over the “Paris Rulebook” on how countries must complete the pledges made in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Parties also agreed that developed nations must urgently accelerate their adaptation finance for developing countries by 2025, but as mentioned in my other report, contributions have been well below the $100 billion annually promised in 2009.

On the negative side, the Glasgow agreement lacks the commitments from countries needed to keep global temperature from increasing beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius and below 2 degrees Celsius. The Climate Action Tracker estimates that despite all commitment made in Glasgow, global temperatures will rise to about 2.4°C by 2100. There is also disenchantment about the lack of pledges to phase out fossil fuel cars and van internationally by 2040 and by 2035 in major markets.  More than 30 countries, including India, Canada, and the Netherlands signed the Glasgow Declaration on Zero Emission Cars and Vans, however China, Germany and the U.S. declined to sign on.  Although major auto makers, such as Ford, GM, Mercedes, Jaguar Land, Rover, Volvo, and China’s BTD agreed to join the declaration, BMW, Toyota, and Volkswagen refused to sign on.  Developing countries were disappointed that their proposal for a new damage fund to provide financial assistance to nations which experience losses from hurricanes, rising sea levels and other impacts from climate change did not receive support.  The U.S. and other developed countries opposed the idea that those countries are entitled to compensation for these damages.

Although, many were dissatisfied by the overall outcome of the Glasgow conference, I was impressed by the number of enthusiastic young delegates in their twenties attending and the many local initiatives that were highlighted in various sessions that I attended.   In my next reflection report, I will discuss some of the novel and encouraging efforts within the U.S. and internationally.